Part of me hates Marvel for how good their stable of creators is. I had nothing against the concept of Ms. Marvel, but I was more than ready to pass on it because I buy too many books, and I’m generally not too interested in the Captain Marvel family of characters outside of the Avengers. Then they got Adrian Alphona to do art chores. Alphona is one of my favorites and has done almost nothing since Runaways (or before, really). So, alas, it ended up on my buy list.
The new Ms. Marvel has been in the news since her unveiling. For those who missed it all, she’s a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl named Kamala Khan, making her the first Muslim character at Marvel to have her own ongoing series. Not surprisingly, this was a big decision that stirred both strong support and inane rants from bigots.
“Ms. Marvel #1” came out today, and it’s a very good first issue. The vast majority of it is used introducing Kamala, as well as establishing her relationships with her supporting cast. In fact, the story doesn’t seem to have actually started yet. Yes, this is standard fare for a first issue, and I normally would criticize it for having exactly zero plot so far, but establishing the lead is more important for Ms. Marvel than most books. With how much attention it has been given for having a Muslim lead, it was crucial that they handle the character and her culture with both respect and realism. Writer G. Willow Wilson kinda nailed it.
Wilson is a Muslim herself, but she’s also white and converted as an adult, so there wasn’t an ironclad guarantee that she’d deliver a believable teenager born to Pakistani immigrants. She does, though, writing an issue that feels a lot like Bend it Like Beckham with superpowers. I did enjoy the writing, but even more than enjoyed it, I respected it. Kamala feels like a very real teenager. Every scene is well written and helps establish who she is and where she’s coming from, as she deals with both a Muslim immigrant community that fluctuates wildly on how orthodoxly they follow their religion and with peers who are too naive to grasp white privilege. It’s material that could all easily dip into the realm of preachy but manages to stay realistic enough to avoid that.
I’d like to give special attention to a scene where Kamala has dinner with her family. Its portrayal of an immigrant Muslim household steals the show for the entire issue. Despite being in the same family, they all have drastically different views on their religion. Kamala’s brother is devout, following all traditions including prayer several times a day. Their father chides him for this but is still strict on social subjects like dating and gender roles. Kamala herself just wants to lead an American teenage life but still believes in Allah and wants to be a good Muslim. The scene is a fascinating portrayal of diversity and single-handedly provides a lot of the truth that this book needs to be credible.
As good as the writing was, however, the art is by far the best part of this book. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m an Adrian Alphona fanboy, so I may be biased, but Ms. Marvel is absolutely beautiful. Alphona has barely done anything in the past, so unless you read Runaways, there’s a good chance you haven’t seen much of his work. He has a very unique style that is both extremely realistic and cartoonish at the same time. Main characters are all very normal but are still drawn with more skill than most. His supporting characters, however, have this wonderful dichotomy where they’ll often have one exaggerated feature, like a large head or a comical girth, but everything else is proportionate enough that they still don’t feel fake. It’s kind of hard to properly sum up, but for a good example, check out Kamala’s dad. My favorite thing about Ms. Marvel was seeing that Alphona hasn’t lost his touch one bit.
*Edit* My roommate compared it to Miyazaki. This is probably a perfect comparison.
This a strong start for what could have been a risky series. G. Willow Wilson has successfully made Kamala Khan interesting in the span of one issue, a difficult task with a brand new character. I’ll buy this book as long as Adrian Alphona is on art. The story hasn’t actually started yet, but if it ends up being as good as the character development, I may keep buying it anyway.
Post-script with a minor spoiler: the last page shows Kamala getting her powers and literally turning into classic, Carol Danvers Ms. Marvel. I was worried that there may be some controversy that the Muslim girl’s superpowers turn her into a tall, blonde, Caucasian woman, but then I read that Kamala’s powers are shape-shifting. So… cue the sigh of relief.
Jay Gabel is an avid video gamer and general nerd living in Madison, WI with a roommate and his cat. He’s an active member of Madison’s theatre community, which keeps him busy, but he likes to write about comics when he gets the time. You can (and probably should) follow him on Facebook or on Twitter under @ThunderyOyster.